“Orgasm, my ass!” — Detective Mike Hammer
In the opening minutes of I, The Jury, poor Jack Williams (Frederic Downs, Bug), the one-armed private eye, has been gunned down and left to bleed out on the floor of his cheap, tiny apartment. His sidearm and prosthetic limb lay just beyond his reach — the final indignities.
But not to worry: Jack’s killer will be identified, captured, and brought to justice if his best friend, fellow P.I. Mike Hammer (Armand Assante, The Mambo Kings) has anything to say about it.
Surely you’ve heard of Mike Hammer? Women want to do him; men want to do him in — y’know, if only to eliminate the competition. Of course, anybody with street smarts (or smarts enough to thumb through the works of pulp fiction master Mickey Spillane) knows that Hammer ain’t got no competition! And just so we’re clear: When Hammer brings someone to justice, there’s no red tape rigmarole or due process nonsense involved — it’s I, The Jury, remember?
This 1982 version marks the second time Spillane’s first novel has been translated for the big screen, and Hammer gets some necessary updates: he’s now a Vietnam (as opposed to WW2) veteran, with blow-dried coiffure and a closet full of leisure suits. The story also gets a makeover: what was originally a Park Avenue psychiatric clinic has now become a sexual rehabilitation and therapy clinic for wealthy clients (experiencing what no one then called “erectile dysfunction,”) run by one Dr. Charlotte Manning (Barbara Carrera, Loverboy), whose exotic beauty and primal sensuality makes most little blue pep pills seem like Flintstones chewables by comparison.
There’s also an added subplot concerning a governmental black-ops division dedicated to drug-induced mind control and being run by a murderous Army Colonel (Barry Snider, Klute), and a further loose thread involving a pretty-boy blonde woman chaser (Judson Scott, Blade) who’s into S & M — meaning sadism and mutilation, in this case.
Larry Cohen’s (God Told Me To) screen adaptation manages to tie these disparate narrative elements together cleverly enough, while maintaining the essence of Spillane’s brusqueness, but his finesse nearly goes unnoticed, due to the ham-handed direction of Richard T. Heffron (Futureworld), resulting in what could easily be mistaken for a potty-mouthed, over-sexed and blood-soaked Rockford Files episode.
Despite this, Assante is terrific; definitely working below his pay grade here, and causing me to wonder why this extremely handsome, talented and versatile actor missed out on becoming a superstar leading man? Lorene Landon (Maniac Cop 2) also does very well in the role of Velma, Mike’s devoted and adoring secretary.
Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), however, is clearly slumming as Hammer’s cop buddy Pat Chambers. Ditto: Geoffrey Lewis as a fellow ‘Nam vet gone to seed, and Alan King (Casino) playing yet another mobster — this time named Charlie Kalecki. Does anybody remember King as a [i]Borscht Belt comedian[/i] anymore?!
But if any one man could be held responsible for sinking this decidedly mixed-bag shoot-em-up, that man would undoubtedly be Bill Conti. That’s right, folks, the very same Bill Conti responsible for the immortal “Theme From Rocky (Gonna Fly Now),” and the musical director of umpteen Academy Awards specials — hell, the man even won his own Oscar for scoring The Right Stuff, in 1984!!
I worked long and hard to come up with words adequate to describe the painful effect his throbbing, insufferable and incessant score had on me during the course of this film, but then I gave up, recognizing that the work had already been definitively done by retired Verdict judge Victor Valdivia in his review of Neighbors (1981); ironically, the last film Conti scored before I, The Jury. Read on!
Speaking of…I, The Jury has been resurrected as part of Fox’s Cinema Archives collection, an “on demand” DVR-pressing service with no apparent restoration efforts expended — whatchu get is whatchu get. Presented in 1:78.1 widescreen, the movie cleans up pretty well, though it does occasionally look as if some light bulbs have burned out over the intervening years, never having been replaced.
Though the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track doesn’t scrimp on delivering the aforementioned Bill Conti’s sonic noodlings, I did notice a fair bit of dialog drop-out, and without subtitles to help fill in the gaps, I fear that some of the gritty wordplay once present has now been lost forever. As consolation, there’s one extra: the film’s trailer.
Cry tough, nobody’s listening, anyways.
Greasy kid stuff for adults. Not good for you, but not guilty.